The standard description of suffering (dukkha) is:“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.”
— Samyutta Nikaya 56.11
The meaning of dukkha can range from extreme pain to mild unsatisfactoriness. dukkha permeates every aspect of life - the reference to the “five clinging-aggregates” is to the Buddhist analysis of a human into five aggregates (form, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness).
The root cause of this pervasive dukkha is desire. We usually want the world to be different from the way it is. We do not want aging, illness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain etc. Because the world is not the way we want it to be we experience dukkha.
Now from the Buddhist perspective, I honestly wish to know, is it legitimate to ask why my said neighbor had to suffer so. I am sure Buddhist thinkers must consider teleology and purpose. How do Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths on overcoming suffering apply to such an ill person.
The Four Noble Truths are laid out as an ancient Indian doctor would lay out a diagnosis:[list]*]state the problem: dukkha.
*]state the cause: craving.
*]state the curability: eliminating the craving will eliminate the dukkha.
*]provide the medicine: The Eightfold Path.[/list]
Your friend had the capacity to follow at least some of that. From your description he was following the Right Livelihood element of the Eightfold Path at the very least.
Such person can obviously not put the 4 Noble Truths into action in dealing with his suffering.
Within his limits he could do a little as with Right Livelihood.
So why did he suffer from Buddhism’s perspective.
Everybody suffers, so in that he was not exceptional. Different people suffer to different degrees, his degree was more than most other humans.
Bluntly speaking, is it Karma, that he is reaping something from a past life and being taught a lesson on the way to Nirvana? Is that the proximate cause of his suffering?
Bluntly yes:Mind precedes all conditions,
mind is their chief, they are mind-made.
If you speak or act with an evil mind then suffering will follow you,
as the wheel follows the draught ox.
There is no sin in Buddhism so neither is there any forgiveness of sin. All actions have consequences. That is why mindfulness is emphasised in Buddhism; if you act unmindfully then you will suffer unwanted consequences.
Or is his suffering merely illusory to us and him?
External reality really exists, it is not illusory. However we can never fully sense external reality, all we can sense are electrical impulses coming into our brains along our sensory nerves. Those electrical impulses allow our brains to build a model of the external reality. The illusion is to mistake the internal model for the external reality - they are not the same thing.
I can’t see his suffering being a product of self-desire which can be extinguished with self-denial.
Our own suffering only exists in the model we carry within our heads. If we adjust our attitude to that model - become enlightened - then we can eliminate our own suffering. In the case of your friend it appears that he was probably not capable of that during that lifetime. That is Karma - not everybody has access to Buddhism in every one of their lifetimes.
Is there any Buddhist equivalent to this Christian emphasis on Love, or does Buddhism merely prescribe “right action” to deal with such suffering. Where is the Love, in the words of one song?
“Love others as you love yourself” - Bhadramayakaravyakarana sutra 91.
There are also the Four Immeasurables:[list]*]Loving Kindness.
*]Equanimity.[/list]Which are to be applied to all living beings.
Thanks if you get around to it. It would help enlighten me at least.
I hope I have been able to help somewhat. Thank you for the interesting questions.